The Human and Economic Cost of Bullying in the Workplace
Posted 10.10.11
Jonathan A. Segal

Last night’s show on bulling on CNN,  AC 360, was remarkable.  It involved bullying in the schools.

But it does not stop there. It continues in our workplaces.

Sometimes, it is unlawful; for example, if an employee is bullied because of his or her race or sex.

Sometimes, it is lawful, because it does not relate to a protected group.

For example, except for morbid obesity, weight is not protected in most jurisdictions. Yet, heavy people are bullied in school and experience bias in workplaces.

Another example: discrimination based on sexual orientation is still lawful in the majority of states.  So, in PA, except for a few counties, bullying based on sexual orientation is lawful too.

In all cases, bullying is hurtful not only to the victim but also to the workplace.

Bullies not only hurt their victims but also create a climate of fear in which the focus is less on the organization’s mission and more on self-preservation.

Bulling is particularly dangerous in health care.  It is inconsistent with a culture of safety where patients may become the victims too.

But how do you define bullying?   Where does pushing appropriately hard become inappropriate bullying?

Are there dangers in having a policy?  What if you don’t live up to what you promise?

Employers cannot ignore the issue. But we cannot prohibit any and all behavior that anyone might find intimidating or offensive.

The Supreme Court Justices once failed to define obscenity, instead saying they would know it when they saw it.  Not the clearest of guidance but perhaps the most honest answer possible.

The same is true of bullying.  There are dangers in defining it too distinctly.  But not as great as ignoring it.

Bullies are co-dependent.  They need victims to feed their self-esteem.

They will not derive the same satisfaction they need if bystanders don’t stand by.  To do nothing is to condone.

Employers should deal with bullying as part of harassment prevention training, making clear that, regardless of whether it is lawful, it is unacceptable.

Refraining is not enough; to date myself, if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem.

This blog should not be construed as legal advice, as establishing an attorney-client relationship or as applying to specific factual situations.

About Jonathan A. Segal
Jonathan A. Segal is a partner at Duane Morris LLP in the Employment Group. He is also the managing principal of the Duane Morris Institute. The Duane Morris Institute provides training for human resource professionals, in-house counsel, and other leaders at client sites and by way of webinar on myriad employment, leadership labor, benefits and immigration topics. Jonathan has served intermittently as a consultant to the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, D.C. for more than 20 years, providing training on employment issues to federal judges around the country. Jonathan also has provided training on harassment on behalf of the EEOC as well as providing training on diversity to members of the United States intelligence agencies. Jonathan is also frequently a featured speaker at national, state and local human resource, business and legal conferences, including conferences sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Pennsylvania State Chamber of Business and Industry. Jonathan’s practice focuses on maximizing compliance and minimizing legal risk. Jonathan’s particular areas of emphasis include: equal employment opportunity in general and gender equality in particular: social media; wage and hour; performance management; talent acquisition; harassment prevention and correction; and non-competes and other ways to protect your business. You can find him on Twitter @Jonathan_HR_Law .